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A heart-pounding heist movie and a bantering conversation between real life and fiction, the debut drama by documentary director Bart Layton (The Imposter) is a great deal sharper – and more slickly executed – than the lunkheaded criminal debacle on which it is based.
The setting is Lexington, Kentucky, 2004. An art student at Transylvania University, Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) has not launched into the world of academia with the burst of glory that he had expected. His childhood friend Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), on an athletic scholarship at a neighbouring college, is similarly disillusioned. When Spencer mentions the ultra-valuable rare books housed in his college library – including a volume of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin Of Species – a half-baked plan to steal them gradually gathers momentum. In addition to the actors playing Spencer and Warren, and their two co-conspirators Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner), the film also deftly juggles interviews with the real members of what must surely be one of the most clueless criminal gangs in history.
With its knotty tangle of unreliable witnesses offering often wildly conflicting accounts, the regular potshots over the fourth wall and the punchy use of music, there are obvious parallels with the recent I, Tonya. But there is also some kinship with Sofia Coppola’s 2013 The Bling Ring, not least in the role that pop culture plays in the crimes perpetrated. In The Bling Ring, it’s reality TV that prompts the kids to steal; here we have a group of movie nerds who prepare by watching Tarantino flicks and come to believe that the heist is the inciting incident needed to kickstart their own unexceptional lives. Supremely watchable and surprisingly poignant, American Animals takes its bumbling, hapless frat-rejects and places them in a tightly plotted high-stakes thriller: a kind of Dude, Where’s My Getaway Car?
Source: The Guardian
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